Written after reading Donna Haraway’s “Making Kin,” which planted a seed. http://environmentalhumanities.org/arch/vol6/6.7.pdf. All quotations are from this essay.
…to cultivate with each other in every way imaginable epochs to come that can replenish refuge…Right now, the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge.
It matters how kin generate kin.Donna Haraway
The floods were coming in and the steam burning through the windows. We gripped our spades in our teeth and climbed into the mouth of the mountain to build secret homes for the seeds.
We did not know each other, or we thought we did not.
We had not been born in the same places. We had never spoken words the others recognized. In the flood, trying to get out of the city, we had found ourselves in a tangle of unmatched tongues and car tires spinning wretched against the finally wet, so wet, too wet soil. Cacophony. An unwieldy din.
But there was a language we held common, a thing that drove us madly into the hills soaking and coughing, our pockets full of sunflowers and fava beans. Call it the language of fertility. The rhetoric of rot. Of reimagining. Call it insanity. Call it a failure to bite down and trudge the proper path and save the proper thing. Call it disease or dis-ease or dissonance or dismantling, all.
Whatever name, we had it. We were, first and foremost, the ones who got out, some privilege and a dash of chance. And we were also ones who knew that the story of what-to-do-in-case-of-disaster was a made thing, a stitched thing, an invisible law book, something written by five-fingered-hands in one very specific language for one very specific purpose. That the disaster itself was a story too, a real thing, yes, and a real thing that had been made, a written thing. And we were the ones who knew story could, just as truly, be torn up, dug up, re-stitched, by hands, by briars, by sharks’ teeth snagging. We were the imaginers. The anxious creators, for whom no law was obvious and no story a static end. We had no set idea of how precisely to respond to a flood. We were not wed to any particular conversation with G_d about the monogamous needs of animals on large boats that wait out storms. Neither were we looking to save the microwaves.
And we were the ones who had no children. Or whose children had already gone. To the waters, to the white and hungry guns, to the longing. We were the ones who had no seeds.
So we found some. In the backs of our closets, in the corner stores standing ankle-deep in water, in the jars on the tilting kitchen shelves. And we gripped our spades in our teeth, and we looked sideways as the streets began to buckle and fold into foothills, and we saw each other limping, and rolling, and running, pockets spilling over with hard-shelled children, with descendants of future trees, and we reached out as we ran, and we gripped each other’s hands in our hands.
It was the queerest thing, like a bird in love with a sturgeon, a family of defectors, arms empty of objects and pockets emptied into soil above the water line, saving no wealth or infrastructure, saving the wrong things. A re-kindling, a re-kinning, a reckoning. All this dying, it has been beyond swallowing.
All those bodies, they came home to the soil. And so we gave them children. Hard-shelled and root-bound. It was a kind of making love to the dead. We slipped seeds into their pockets. Their bodies fertile, already almost soil, meeting the beans, the walnuts, the pits we plunged into the wet ground. The rhetoric of rot. The true nature of kinship: all things becoming other things. Hidden in the mountain, learning each others’ languages, guarding, gardening, waiting for the first roots, those parts of the plants called “radical,” to unfurl their faces into the soil.
“Kin is an assembling sort of word. All critters share a common ‘flesh’…”
What happens when a tsunami or a big earthquake or a societal collapse hits the coastal floodplains and those who can get their bodies out have to head for the hills? How will we re-make the world? What will we eat? Who will be the keepers of the stories? Who will be the keepers of the dead? How do we show up and take care of each other, beyond the stories that we have been taught? It will take a myriad of stories to answer these questions, and we need to answer them, again and again, to imagine and re-imagine our wonderings, queries, tinkerings, what-ifs, into flesh and soil and seed.
It is not only people who will need refuge, and indeed some people might have no people. Not anymore. What if they find each other. What if they find the seeds. What if they hold refuge for the dead, for each other, and for the living who will need to eat later on. What if the story about what to do in case of disaster, what and who to prioritize, gets queered, gets failed at, gets improvised outside of, gets added on to. What if they hide in the hills and honor the dead by planting seeds into their crumbling soil. What if they find each other and keep the breath of the world alive in a secret place. What if they hold each other beyond horror, beyond bloodlines, beyond absurdity. What if they re-imagine, together, what it is that needs to be saved.
“Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, compose-with—the earth-bound…compose and decompose, which are both dangerous and promising practices…”
Dangerous and promising. Compose and decompose– song to shit to soil. (All matter merging into itself, one another. Microbes and worms breaking down? the myth that we ever weren’t kin, undoing the lie of a whole country acting as if we don’t, with the flip of a leaf or a compost pile, just turn into one another’s bodies.
What does it mean to become kindred with the dead? To plant into them? To unfurl and unravel and unassent to the story that exalts immortality, that promotes “failure to become-with the dead and the extinct. “One of the things I do for a living is grow food, and help others learn to grow food. Every act of feeding is also an act of dying. Every moment of death is also a plate replete with food. Compost, insect, plant, microbe Bodies becoming other bodies, matter mattering.
In our obsession with eternal life we tried to unbecome kin with the earth, to unbecome kin with each other. Instead of merging and differentiating and merging again, as matter tends to, we try to stay separate, forever, avoiding death.
And yet the dying, “… it has been beyond swallowing.” It is beyond swallowing. I have lost beloveds and I am not grateful, I do not turn to death with rosy, easy eyes. So many have had beloveds taken, whole generations, the unkinning of separation, how it tries to unlink families, stories, whole histories waving in the wind.
Some of us, our ancestors, chose separation, domination, did this actively to people who were not in fact trying to unbecome. These are the dominator stories unlinking, unassembling us now, still. A planet with a fever. Bodies metastasizing something we can’t always name but the sickness tries to.
But death becomes soil becomes seeds, seeds shared from hand to shattered hand, Without kin beyond blood, beyond nation, beyond body, without kindred in death, we create refugees, creatures, species, cultures with no place of refuge to recover, to thrive. No death, no kin, no food. Kin begets refuge: places of holding over, of survival, of keeping alive the children and the stories and the seeds.
I asked the ocean about loneliness, once. And the ocean laughed and spit salt water in my face. Nice try, nice try, nice try. What do you think happens to you when you die? Your body breaks down. Your body gets eaten. Your body becomes the body of this world that you so desperately, terribly, painfully love.
You cannot die your way out of mattering, said the ocean. Nice try, but we are already kin.
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About the Author
Rachel Economy is a writer, facilitator, and permaculture designer living in Berkeley, California. She will soon have an M.A. from the Goddard Graduate Institute. Rachel was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and serves as fiction editor at Hematopoiesis Press, as well as editor-in-chief at the forthcoming Index for the Next World. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Dark Mountain, Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine, Watershed Journal of Environment and Culture, Index/Fist, and The Round, amongst others. You can find more of Rachel’s work at racheleconomy.com.